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The last few years have seen an increase in demand for travel nurses by almost 20%. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics expects this growth to average 9% annually over the next ten years.
Along with the benefits of being a travel nurse come the headaches of a contract employee. Since travel nurses aren’t considered permanent employees, they often have to cover their own health insurance costs.
Due to frequent location changes, travel nurses are faced with having to pay for expensive health insurance policies through their agencies, find separate policies at each posting, or risk going without. Plus, each time a nurse switches agencies or insurance companies, their annual deductible resets.
In a career that requires long shifts and constant exposure to sick patients, a comprehensive health insurance plan is vital. This article outlines health insurance options for travel nurses and weighs the pros and cons of each.
Table of Contents:
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What are the Options for Travel Nurse Health Insurance?
Like other contract employees, travel nurses have several options:
- Agency-provided health insurance
- Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) – provides coverage for up to 18 months after job loss
- Affordable Care Act (ACA) Marketplace individual or family health insurance coverage
- Private Health Insurance
Medicaid and CHIP are not included in this list as most nurses make more than the maximum income requirements.
Agency-Provided Health Insurance
Some travel nurse agencies offer health insurance plans to their employees. This can alleviate the inconvenience of searching for an individual private health insurance plan but often comes at a higher cost.
Opting for agency-provided health insurance also creates additional hassle should the nurses decide to change agencies. This is common amongst travel nurses as they progress through their careers.
Before deciding to enroll health insurance plan provided by a travel nursing agency, one should consider their long-term goals and if these benefits are worth the restrictions.
Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act – COBRA
COBRA gives travel nurses the right to choose to continue health benefits from their group health plan for up to 18 months after voluntary or involuntary job loss. Qualified individuals may be required to pay the entire premium for coverage up to 102% of the plan’s cost.
Using COBRA for health insurance options between agency plans can become quite expensive in the long run.
ACA Marketplace Individual and Family Health Insurance Plans
ACA-compliant health insurance plans are another option for travel nurses. Enrollment for this coverage is limited to November 1st to December 15th unless you experience what is called a “qualifying life event.”
According to HealthInsurance.org, qualifying life events include:
- Involuntary loss of coverage
- Individual plan renewing outside of the regular open enrollment
- Becoming a dependent or gaining a dependent?
- Becoming a United States citizen or lawfully present resident
- A permanent move
- An error or problem with enrollment
- Employer-sponsored plan becomes unaffordable or stops providing minimum value
- An income increase that moves you out of the coverage gap
- Gaining access to a QSEHRA or Individual Coverage HRA
- An income or circumstance change that makes you newly eligible (or ineligible) for subsidies or CSR
- Various exceptional circumstances
Choosing ACA health insurance allows more control over benefits, premiums, and out-of-pocket costs. You also cannot be denied coverage for pre-existing conditions.
Types of ACA Health Insurance Plans include:
Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) plan for in-network physicians and referrals
Exclusive Provider Organization (EPO) plans contract with doctors and hospitals to provide care to the health plan’s member
Point of Service (POS) plan which is a hybrid of HMO & PPO coverage
Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) plan that provides nationwide coverage
Health Maintenance Organization – HMO Plans
This insurance plan allows you to pick your primary care physician within your HMO network. All referrals for specialist visits and medical needs must be made within your HMO network or will be subject to additional costs. The only exception to this is if you need emergency healthcare.
Overall, this isn’t an ideal plan for travel nurses as they are not consistently located within their home network.
Exclusive Provider Organization – EPO Plans
An EPO is a type of health plan that falls somewhere between a Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) and a Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) in terms of cost and flexibility. With an EPO, travel nurses have only in-network coverage (except for emergencies), but they do not need to select a primary care physician (PCP) or get referrals to see specialists.
EPO health insurance members are covered for emergency care no matter where they are – in or out of network.
Point of Service – POS Plans
A travel nurse with a POS plan can still choose their PCP, but more out-of-network healthcare providers are accessible. Their network is essentially larger than that of an HMO plan but smaller than a PPO. A portion of medical expenses outside the PPO network is covered.
POS plans can be as much as 50% cheaper but tend to be confusing to navigate. They can also take as long as 3-6 months for reimbursement after a health care visit. POS plans for travel nurses offer location flexibility but some things to consider are high annual deductibles and complicated benefits.
Preferred Provider Organization – PPO Plans
This type of health insurance gives you an entire network of preferred healthcare providers. PPO plans are ideal as health insurance for travel nurses due to their flexibility and nationwide coverage.
With PPO insurance, you have the advantage of:
- Seeing a physician or healthcare provider of your choosing
- No need to choose a primary care physician(PCP)
- No referrals needed for specialist visits
- Greater flexibility than all other travel nursing coverage options
Travel nurses with PPO plans are able to travel seamlessly between contracts and locations without worrying about coverage.
Private Health Insurance Plans
Short-Term Health Insurance
These insurance plans often have less comprehensive benefits but are an option for travel nurses between contracts or agencies. This type of insurance plan also has drawbacks regarding pre-existing conditions.
They are mostly EPO and PPO plans that are underwritten at the time of claim. This could pose a danger to those with medical histories and result in paying large out-of-pocket expenses.
Short-term health insurance is better than no health insurance coverage, but as the name implies, it is only a temporary option.
Medically Underwritten Plans
These health insurance plans involve researching the medical history of an applicant in order to identify risk factors and price coverage accordingly. Policies are PPO only.
The factors typically examined include:
- Current health & physical condition
- Personal health history
- Occupational hazards
Medically underwritten plans are a great option for travel nurses in good health. The healthier you are, the better the rates. Some policies can even be guaranteed renewable until the age of 65 no matter the claims, and are the best private PPO plans on the market.
MultiPlan or Discount Medical Plan Organization – DMPO
The MultiPlan Network is a nationwide complementary PPO network. This type of health insurance plan gives you access to a choice of providers that have agreed to offer a discount for services.
These plans are very limited and do not have a cap on out-of-pocket costs. They also do not accept pre-existing conditions. The unknown costs and limited services could be problematic for travel nurses.
Christian Healthcare Ministries (CHM) or Faith-Based Healthcare
Faith-based healthcare is offered through 501(c)(3) nonprofit charities and serves as an alternative to health insurance. Members contribute a fixed dollar amount to the organization. When a member of the community falls ill, they submit a request for the amount required to cover the health care bill.
These plans are not recommended for travel nurses as they typically only cover smaller claims and resources are limited to whatever is in the community pot.
Supplemental Insurance for Vision & Dental
Another consideration when choosing health insurance for travel is the availability of vision and dental coverage.
For example, ACA insurance policies do not cover regular vision checks, glasses, or dental cleanings. This means that you’ll have to purchase supplemental insurance for these coverages.
You can purchase supplemental dental and vision insurance through brokers like Simple Health Quotes.
Fines for Not Having Health Insurance
Federal tax penalties have been repealed, but you can still face fines in some states for not having compliant health insurance.
These are things to consider for travel nurses heading to the following states:
- New Jersey
- Rhode Island
- Washington D.C.
Our Recommendations for Travel Nurse Health Insurance
Having comprehensive nationwide coverage is the best option for any travel nurse. Everyone’s health care needs are unique, and talking to an expert is crucial while selecting the right coverage for you and your family.
Freedom to travel with peace of mind was one of the reasons you chose this profession. Simple Health Quotes has an experienced customer support team specializing in travel nurse insurance. We’ll guide you through the policy selection process from start to finish. After you choose the right plan, our health insurance experts remain available to you for the duration of your policy.